Don’t Discount Yourself

Dear self,

I’ve noticed a habit you have, and I want to talk to you about it. It’s not a good habit, or I’d be congratulating you for being awesome. It’s a bad habit, but not one I want to slap your wrist for, because, knowing you, you would just apologize.

And you already apologize too much. (Don’t apologize.)

This habit is similar, because it makes me so sad for you—and it’s such a hard habit to correct, because it comes from a place of genuine modesty and even kindness. It’s a habit many women share, a habit we’ve all developed because we don’t want to overstep ourselves or seem bitchy or whatever it is we’re all trying to avoid.

Have you figured out what it is yet?

It involves a few words and phrases that seem innocent enough. Only. Not really. Just. Well. Words we use to prevaricate, words we writers systematically eliminate from our books because it means we’re not sure what we want to say. But. Sort of. Kind of. Enough. Yet.

Still confused?

It’s the habit of discounting yourself, of evading compliments, of not taking ownership of your accomplishments, however small you may think they are. You think you’re being modest—and most of the time you really do feel that your accomplishment is not worthy of praise. But you’re selling yourself short. You’re telling whoever wants to compliment you (and the rest of the world with them) that you do not deserve praise, that you have not created or accomplished something worth noting. You are saying to the world, “No, I am NOT worthy of your praise or even your notice.”

I’ll stop now, because you’re giving me that look that says, “Well, I’m just being honest, and I’m really not that—”

Well (I can say well, too!), JUST STOP IT. Just stop and listen to yourself.

“I’ve only been dancing for about a year.”

“I’m not published yet.”

“Well, it’s not really that hard to make.”

“I haven’t done enough reading to make me an expert, but…”

“It’s sort of goofy-looking.”

“It’s just the pattern; I only knit it.”

You see what I’m getting at here, or shall I go on?

You’re not the only one to do this. Many of your friends do the same thing. It’s something we’re trained to do, I think, though I’m not sure when the indoctrination starts. As kids, we’re taught to say “please” and “thank you” and all the rest. But when are we taught to deny compliments all together? Was “thank you” not sufficient for expressing gratitude, and we decided we debase ourselves in acknowledgement of praise?

Trouble is, when you bow out of a compliment, you’re essentially saying that the giver has no taste. Think about it:

Person A: “Wow, you made that?! It’s gorgeous!”

You: “Well, you can see that some of the wires are loose, and I was really just following a pattern.” (Subtext: “You’re clearly blind, and anyway, this is something so commonplace, a monkey could make it.”)

Person A: “Whatever, think it’s nice.” (Subtext: “And here I thought it was pretty. See if I try to compliment you again!” Or, worse, “And here I thought it was pretty. I must have horrible taste! Now I question my entire belief system…”)

Okay, maybe I’m exaggerating a little, but no one wins in this situation.

I can see you feel bad now, so let me give you a little advice. You won’t want to hear this, I know, but try to listen and accept what I’m saying without trying to dismiss it or wave it away with the rest of the nice things I tell you. So listen up:

You are talented. You are skilled. You are worthy of praise and deserving of notice. You work hard and earn the things that come to you. You are amazing, and you can say, “THANK YOU!”

Now you’re rolling your eyes and telling me that’s not advice. So here’s your mission:

Accept praise. Express gratitude for compliments. Stop trying to deny your own worthiness, skill, and creativity. Take responsibility for the good that you do, as well as the bad. The next time someone says something nice about you, smile, and say your thanks. You can do it—you’re a talented and gracious woman.

So, there, self. I hope you listen to me and take my advice. This is one of those instances where you’ll want apologize for something that’s not that bad and pretend none of this ever happened, but I know it’ll light a little fire somewhere inside you. Maybe the next time someone compliments you, you’ll think of this moment and offer thanks.

Maybe you’re saying thank you right now. Telling me I’m wise and you should listen to me more often.

And you know what I say to that? THANK YOU.

Sincerely,

Your self

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Frazzled Friday

Ghost town blog. Photo by Sebastien Dooris

You may have noticed the echoing silence ’round these parts the past couple weeks. I’m not trying to excuse myself, but I thought you might enjoy knowing where the heck I’ve been.

1. Last week, I was revising my latest book, Oasis, so I could get it sent off to my awesome agent. Revisions are labor intensive and nerve-wracking, and, with my other commitments, akin to having a second full time job. Agent-sending also requires a synopsis and some other front-matter for the manuscript itself, so that’s still more work being done.

2. Next week is Lughnasadh, a neo-pagan High Day, and I’ve been preparing liturgy and devotionals for the Solitary Druid Fellowship, of which I’m now the organizer. This is another project and a half, and one that’s very important to me… and quite literally on a deadline.

3. Speaking of druidry, I’m also working through the pre-clergy training program for ADF—I’d really like to get my preliminary coursework done by the end of the year, and every class requires some significant research and essay-writing… and still more revisions! In addition to that, I’m coordinator of a subgroup of ADF and mentor to another student, so I have a few other ongoing responsibilities there, as well.

4. I’ve been acting as Game Master for the completely magical and fabulous Magetech troupe, and we’ve been putting our game sessions up LIVE on the Searching for Superwomen YouTube channel. (Link to our first play session, where you can see me giggling madly and acting sadistic.) Gaming is a hell of a lot of fun, but GM-ing is quite a bit of work.

5. Over on Spellbound Scribes, we’ve increased posting frequency, so that means more work and more fun there, as well. Have you seen our story in the round? You can see my piece of it here.

And all of those things are in addition to yoga, belly dance class, an upcoming festival, attempting to see my various friends at least once a month, reading fiction, cooking, cleaning, spending time with my husband, and trying to conquer the ever-increasing pile of laundry in the bedroom closet.

We’re all busy, I know. But sometimes it’s hard to keep up with the blogging. Hang in there, readers. I’ll be back.

Kristin’s 2012 Year in Review

You know how sometimes you have tons of fabulous blog posts planned for a given month, and then suddenly it’s the twenty-first and you have no idea where the time went?

Yeah, that’s why you haven’t seen me in awhile.

This has been a big year for me. So big, in fact, that I decided to spend what many thought was the final day of the world showing you just a few of my key moments from 2012.

7828753730_f88600fb6c1. I got married.

After seven-plus years, long-distance time spent in two different countries, four cross-country moves, good jobs, bad jobs, grief, joy, and everything in between that makes up daily life, Drew and I decided to tie the knot.

Being a bride is one of those fabulous things that takes month of prep (see number 2) and then rushes by in a mere hours, most of them spent in a daze caused by heat, a tight dress, and staying out waaaaaay too late the night before partying with your girlfriends.

It ends quickly, but then you’re left with a few gorgeous memories… like this one.

2. I planned a wedding.

Don’t laugh. Planning a wedding is tons of work, and you have to think of everything from the napkins all the way up to the venue, the music, and the dress. And all those tiny little details add up to wedding, and turn a beautiful day into a magical one.

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3. I made new friends, and got to spend time with old friends.

Most of my friends live in Texas. We met in high school and college, we lived together in Rome, we drank too much on our twenty-first birthdays together, and they held me in their arms after my brother died. They are part of my family.

However, as you grow up, you move apart. It’s hard to see each other that often, and you start to develop new interests. But if you’re lucky, you get to make new friends and add to that existing circle of family-friends.

I am very lucky.

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4. I lost a dear friend.

Furry friends count as family, too, and they never stay long enough. Baby stayed nearly twenty years, though, and was as good a friend as I ever had.

5. I finished Shaken.

Writing a first draft is the easy part. Reading the book 15 times and making changes for every reread is the hard part. Shaken went through three different endings and at least as many different full drafts. Most of the edits were while I was planning the wedding, and some of them were while I was already on submission. I deserve a medal… or possibly a straight jacket, as a reward for my insanity.

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This is my pity-party outfit.

6. I went on submission.

Querying is hard, yo. It’s really, really difficult. It takes hours of research for each agent, it takes weeks of revising a 300-word letter, and even more time to write synopses. And as a reward for all that work, you get rejections by the fistful.

If you’re lucky, you actually get some positive responses, and you get to submit your book for actual consideration. And after that, you get more rejection; the real, painful rejection that delves into why agents hated or just didn’t love your book.

After X-number of rejections (3-4 on actual submissions), Spouse and I instated the pity-party, which typically involved party hats, kazoos, and glowsticks. If you can’t celebrate rejection, what can you celebrate?

7. I got an agent.

The happy thing about rejections, though, is you can know that they’re usually from the people who aren’t right to represent your book. And the person who is right is still out there, waiting to hold your pages in their happy little hands.

The real work is just about to begin, but  I now have someone who loves my work to fight along with me. Further proof that I’m pretty darn lucky.

An Open Letter to Retail Customers

A seriously odd customer today got me thinking about how we all treat the people who wait on us in any service capacity.

Oh, let me back up: I work part-time in retail. I know that cashiering isn’t glamorous, it isn’t exactly intellectually stimulating, and I know it suggests high school students and, well, people with nothing else to do.

But let me tell you a few things. I have a Master’s degree in Journalism, and I’ve worked as a reporter. I’m actually a pretty good reporter. But I don’t like reporting. I don’t mind, however, working retail, and I choose to do so to supplement my household income. I can perform quick arithmetic in my head, I’m scrupulously honest (see above about not enjoying newspaper reporting), and I actually enjoy working in the gorgeous fast-paced setting that is retail sales.

Plus, I work in a semi-New Age store. I meet interesting people, and I get to look at pretty things. I’m a magpie of both shiny things and shiny ideas, so I do get some pleasure out of my work, when it’s going well.

The bad days are very bad, though, and that’s largely because a portion of the population does not appreciate that I’m a human being, not a talking cash register.

So I’d like to ask the internet to remember a few things about the people who wait on you.

1. I am not a child. Don’t accuse me of breaking things or of not keeping my room clean enough. I work hard at this, and I frequently work completely alone. It can be hard to keep up with your demands, but I’m not completely incapable. Just give me a minute to do my job.

2. I don’t want to be hit on. C’mon, guys. I’m a married woman. Plus, I’m not getting paid to flirt. I smile and ask you about your day because it’s polite for me to do so.

3. I don’t like it when salespeople stalk me, either. But sometimes companies expect their employees to do just that. Be understanding. Don’t shoo me like a stray puppy. I’m just doing my job.

4. I’m a pretty smart gal. Don’t assume that because someone is wearing a name-tag, they’re not an educated, intelligent person. Just don’t. You never know someone else’s story.

5. I have feelings, too. I know you’re in a hurry: I am, too. But when my equipment has a fault, or when there’s a long line, I can only do what I can do. Believe me, I’m trying to go as fast as I can. And if I can’t answer your question, don’t yell at me. Don’t take your bad day out on me. Maybe I’m having a bad day, too.

And finally, my gigantic pet-peeve:

Don’t talk on your cellphone when you should be interacting with me. I know that I’m just a function to you, a check-out machine at the front of the store, but I’m not a computer. I have to tell you your total, make sure you found what you needed, ask if you want a receipt, a box, a bag, any number of things. And I can’t do that if you’re not listening. You’re preventing me from doing my job well.

Plus, it’s just rude.

I’m begging you, internet. The next time someone in retail, in service, or on the phone asks you a question or takes a long time, remember that they’re a person. They’re doing a job, but they are not that job. Be nice.

It’s a Green Thumb After All

Remember how I said that I can’t ever really succeed with gardening?

Well, it turns out I lied.

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Here we have my the chives I recently mowed down, some chamomile, my potted lilac bush, a baby pepper plant, the basil, a tea-rose, lavender, and a LOT of mint.

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The seed-pots contain borage, more chamomile, hollyhocks, poppies, some sort of climbing plant, and something else I’ve forgotten. You can catch a glimpse of the big pepper plant on the right.

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This bottom photo is mostly of my tomato plant, which is HUGE. It’s tied to the stake with purple yarn, but still threatening to tomato-bomb anyone on the sidewalk below. Next to it is a teacup tomato plant (complete with gnome) that’s still a baby. (The tarp covered monstrosity is my bike.)

I’m completely infatuated with my little garden. I’d work and read out there, but a) it’s greenhouse-hot, and b) we live near the highway so it’s never really quiet. I do have a couple of houseplants by my desk, though.

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Yes, that is a fairy garden in my jade plant pot.

So, the moral, dear readers, is never think you can’t do something.

How are your gardens doing? 

The Best Laid Plans

I got so much work done yesterday revising and replotting that I decided to run my errands last night so I would have an entire day free to work again today. I also had planned a very exciting blog post, some research for a project I have to present this weekend, and who knows what other productive tasks I could accomplish.

Then my boss called at about 10:45.

“Uh, yeah,” she said. “You were supposed to open the store today.”

Picture me like this:

*headdesk* (Though I am happy I got to share that video with you.)

This was extra-double-bad because my fiance and I share a car, and about ten minutes earlier, he had taken it to work. I was stranded, the bus only runs about once an hour, and the store—right on the town square—was standing dark and empty. Lucky for me, my fiance is a nice guy, so he turned around to come back and pick me up. He sat on the couch and watched me scamper around, putting my gungy hair in a ponytail, packing some bread and butter to eat for a “nutritious” combination breakfast and lunch, and generally acting like a complete idiot.

Five hours later, I shuffled up the steps to our apartment, ponytail sagging and tote bag overflowing with my laptop power cord and the empty bags from my “lunch.” My feet hurt because I chose to wear ridiculous knee-high boots with my gypsy skirt (fondly known by my fiance as the “crazy bag lady skirt”), my nose is running like a faucet because I’m still not over the bronchitis of doom, and the only thing I’ve eaten all day is said bread and butter and a handful of honey-roasted peanuts.

As I carried those idiot boots over one arm, tote bag slung over the other arm, my fiance said, “Now you really look like a crazy bag lady.”

It’s just been one of those days, readers. You know the ones. Somehow everything you planned goes up in smoke, your hair resists every effort to look nice, you realize you’ve been wearing your shirt inside out all day, the car won’t start when you’re already running late, the cat throws up on the carpet right where you first step out of bed, the toast burns, and you really wish you’d just shut your cellphone off and stayed in bed.

Lucky me, though, I have a job I love and awesome readers like you. And as Kristen Lamb said yesterday, a writing career is a marathon, not a sprint, and we have to work on a lot more than character arcs and subplots. Today was just a long-run day, and I’ll be the stronger tomorrow for it.

But if you’ll excuse me for now, I’m going to watch that chipmunk video about a dozen more times and help myself to a beer. And then this evening I’ll get some of the work I had planned done, because writing is totally worth looking like a crazy bag lady.

How Not to Be a Sidekick

In the season 4 Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode, “Fear, Itself,” Willow, upset at Buffy’s orders and doubts, storms off in the face of danger, saying to Buffy, “I’m not your sidekick!” We have to remember that in Willow’s mind, she’s the star of her own show. Willow the Badass Witch.

Sidekicks are boring. They say yes all the time, maybe provide some benign judgment about the protagonist’s mistakes, have no life outside the protagonist’s plot, and as soon as they’re finished pitching in, they disappear, never to be seen or thought of again. No one wants that—not even your secondary characters.

You don’t want to be a sidekick either. No one wants to be someone’s yes-man, laughing at his pal’s jokes and disappearing when it looks like he may get lucky, like the main character’s best friend in a sitcom. I’ve been there, acting as “So-and-so’s friend,” irritated that I wasn’t my own life’s protagonist.

Hopefully this advice—which my sixteen-year-old self could’ve used—will help you and your characters avoid the sidekick-trap.

1. Don’t forget to focus on your own plotline. Sure, you’re willing to help the main character of a given story, but you need to remember to face your own conflicts, as well. Although Dr. Watson is undoubtedly Sherlock Holmes’s sidekick, in the current film series, he has his own life, complete with fiancée, addiction to gambling, and dog. He repeatedly tries to back out of Holmes’s shenanigans and focus on his own real life, but that addiction to gambling (plus some bizarre affection for Holmes) keeps him coming back for more.

2. Don’t take orders that don’t suit your character. A true sidekick (an uninteresting sidekick) will do whatever the protagonist asks, whether it’s something he would normally do or not. If Dawn Summers were truly a sidekick, she would’ve stayed gone after Xander kidnapped her to get her away from the final battle. Instead, she tasers him and takes herself right back to the heart of the action. Sure, she learns her place and mans Research-Central, but that’s because she knows what her powers are. If you don’t want to be a sidekick, you have to take a stand for what you believe in.

3. Don’t be too helpful. If all you do is provide helpful information and run for coffee, you’re definitely a sidekick, not a fully developed character. Unless you want to be like the squints from Bones, who just answer questions and then disappear, try to make your protagonist work for your help. Look at Jayne Cobb on Firefly: sure, he’s there when you need him, and he solves a lot of problems, but he’s his own man. He’s not reliable, even if he is helpful, and you never doubt that in his mind, he’s the star of the show. Plus, a little surliness never goes amiss in holding your own.

4. Try to stay out of trouble. If you’re constantly making your protagonist come rescue you, you’re definitely into sidekick territory. While I love Amelia Pond, she never quite exceeds the Companion status in the same way that Rose Tyler does. Rose fights her own battles and kicks Dalek ass, while Amy skulks back to the TARDIS when she’s ordered there, only to get kidnapped or possessed by a Weeping Angel. A true, strong character will rescue herself, at least most of the time.

5. Unless you’re dealing with your own Big Bad, try to be there for the final confrontation. Disappearing before the end and leaving the protagonist to deal with her troubles all on her own means you’re a sidekick… unless you’re off kicking ass elsewhere. Remember the Lone Gunmen, those goofy nerds Mulder occasionally got info from in The X-Files? They got their own show, but that show flopped because those guys just weren’t interesting. They also died in a weak standalone episode of the last season of The X-Files. Because they were so incidental to the protagonists’ plot, they didn’t even get a chance to join in the major fight. If you want to stand out in memory, you need to fight like the Scooby Gang against the First.

Bottom line? Be your own protagonist

These are some badass non-sidekicks.